By Andries Lodder for Modern Athlete Magazine Oct 2011
When I start running I get a bad pain in my lower calf on my left leg and after a while the pain moves up into my calf, my knee, my thigh and into my bum. The pain is worst when running up hills. I was told it could be an irritated sciatic nerve and that I should do a lot of stretching exercises.
This has been going on for about 2 years and prevents me from training for Comrades. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.
It sounds like this problem has been going on for quite some time now. To be frankly honest, there are so many variables that need to be taken into account here, as in: What type of pain it is? Does the pain go away as soon as you stop, or does it stay for a period of time afterwards? Do you always run on the same camber of the road? Have you had any previous injuries involving your left side?
Just by telling me what type of pain it is will guide me in a much better direction.
If it’s a sharp shooting or burning pain, sciatic nerve compression is most likely, most commonly sciatic nerve compression. In this case the pain starts normally from your bum area down towards your calves and not vice versa as you described. For pain relief here gluteal (piriformis muscle specifically) and hamstring stretching is the best thing to do.
If it’s a dull ache, it’s more a muscular problem, especially the piriformis muscle being too tight and too weak, not providing enough stability to the pelvis.
Deep gnawing pain tells me it’s osteogenic, meaning bone related. This could be due to a leg length discrepancy (one leg being shorter than the other) and cause pain due to overcompensation of the one side of the body.
Stinging pain suggests joints/ ligaments/ tendons, suggesting muscular imbalances, such as calves, hamstrings and quadriceps not strong enough and not providing your joints with enough stability during running.
You mentioned that the pain gets worse during hill running. This is also a great indicator of the muscles being too weak. Strengthening of the posterior muscles is very important for runners, especially the calves and hamstring muscles. One thing you can try during a run is to walk up the hills; this will strengthen your calves, whereas trying to run it will work more your quadriceps and put more strain on your weaker calves.
My suggestion is to see a professional, especially because you’ve been sitting with the problem for 2 years now. A Chiropractor would be able to assist with all areas discussed here, as well as a Biokineticist would do a full biomechanical analysis, to pinpoint the problem area and fix it once and for all.
Remember, all problems are fixable, as long as you seek the professional help you need. Your body is your temple, treat it as such.